Kenseth, Newman, Bowyer, Biffle still in Chase Grid with 2 races to go

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Bristol Motor Speedway had the potential to turn the Race to the Chase upside down.

But instead, all four winless drivers that went into Saturday night’s Irwin Tools Night Race holding a Chase Grid position not only left Bristol still on the Grid but having increased their points cushions.

Here’s a look at how those on the Chase bubble fared in Thunder Valley…

13. 20-Matt Kenseth, 751 points

Finished 3rd at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 13th, +58 over 17th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 13th, +83 over 17th

Kenseth had a near-miss on Saturday night at Bristol, but he’s pretty much set to go into the post-season on points after a solid third-place effort that helped him add 25 markers to his cushion over 17th place. If you’ve had his name penciled in on the Grid, go ahead and erase that – then put it in ink.

14. 31-Ryan Newman, 710 points

Finished 13th at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 14th, +28 over 17th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 14th, +42 over 17th

Now, if you’ve also penciled in Newman’s name, I’d keep the pen handy for next weekend at Atlanta. On Saturday, Newman hovered around the Top 10 for much of the night before a tight handling condition caused him to fade to 13th – but he still banked 14 points for his cushion. He could be a dark horse for Atlanta, where he finished in the Top-5 last year and where his Richard Childress Racing team recently tested.

15. 15-Clint Bowyer, 699 points

Finished 17th at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 15th, +21 over 17th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 15th, +31 over 17th

After taking damage to his car as part of his involvement in Saturday’s first major incident, Bowyer eventually dropped off the lead lap in the second half of the race. But he was still able to salvage a Top-20 finish that enabled him to bank 10 points.

16. 16-Greg Biffle, 694 points

Finished 10th at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 16th, +9 over 17th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 16th, +26 over 17th

Biffle’s picked up his pace at the right time. His 10th-place run on Saturday was his fourth consecutive Top-10 finish (fifth at Pocono, eighth at Watkins Glen, 10th at Michigan) and it was enough for a 17-point swing in his favor. The Biff had some luck on his side at Bristol; contact from Paul Menard on Lap 372 left his rear bumper cover dangling to the side, but a caution came out just a few laps later, giving his No. 16 squad a chance to remove it in the pits.

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17. 42-Kyle Larson, 668 points

Finished 12th at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 19th, -24 behind 16th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 17th, -26 behind 16th

Larson’s weekend at Bristol was one of survival – but survive, he did. After crashing his primary car in qualifying, Larson had to start Saturday’s race from the rear of the field in a backup. Following a solid opening run into the Top 20, he then took some damage in the Kyle Busch-Aric Almirola crash on Lap 125. But Larson recovered from the setback and turned in a 12th-place effort, which was enough to push him two positions up the Chase standings.

18. 5-Kasey Kahne, 661 points

Finished 35th at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 17th, -9 behind 16th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 18th, -33 behind 16th

Normally solid at Bristol, Kahne was looked at as a potential surprise for Saturday. Instead, a loose wheel caused him to pit from the Top 5 in mid-race and fall off the lead lap. Then later in the race, problems with the right front tire forced Kahne behind the wall around 100 laps to go. He returned to the track to finish 35th, but took a 24-point hit and fell one spot in the Chase standings. Atlanta may be another opportunity for a win, however, as he’s taken two victories on the 1.5-mile oval (2006, 2009).

19. 3-Austin Dillon, 654 points

Finished 28th at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 18th, -22 behind 16th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 19th, -40 behind 16th

Dillon had a rough night from the very beginning, sliding all the way back to 40th and going one lap down in the early stages due to poor handling. He soldiered on to a 28th-place result, but now he’s got to go hard for a win this coming weekend at Atlanta. Will that aforementioned RCR test session help him contend?

20. 27-Paul Menard, 649 points

Finished 9th at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 21st, -46 behind 16th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 20th, -45 behind 16th

Menard was running in the Top-5 late, but fell back a few spots after the final restart. The 9th-place result got him up to 20th in the Chase standings, but his points deficit only shrank by one marker. Like with RCR teammate Dillon, Atlanta will be big.

IMSA: Sebring Day 2 of two-day test notebook

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Testing across several IMSA sanctioned series continued at Sebring International Raceway on Tuesday as preparations continue for next month’s events during the weekend of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

Below are highlights from Day 2 of testing around the 3.74-mile road course.

Eurosport Racing Continues Work with Mazda Prototype Challenge Chassis

Teams in the Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda championship completed their second day of testing on Tuesday. Among them, Eurosport Racing continued their work with the only Mazda Prototype Challenge (MPC) entries in the field, in the hands of drivers Dr. Tim George (in the No. 24 entry) and Jon Brownson (in the No. 34).

“Right now, I’m driving by myself so we’re trying to make the car comfortable enough to last an hour and 45 minutes with just me in the car,” George said of their preparation efforts. “We’re trying to set up the car where it’s quick, yet it and can last, both the car and for me to make sure we don’t tire out, get fatigued and make mistakes.”

The 1 hour 45 minute window that George referenced represents the race times for the 2018 season, up considerably from last year’s sprint format that featured a pair of 45-minute races across a race weekend.

Though that change represents a drastic shift in driving philosophy, it is one that George welcomes.

“The new rules for the endurance races are great, I enjoy it a lot,” said George. “It gives you a chance to think through things differently with strategy. It also gives you a chance if you blow it…in a sprint race if you make a mistake you don’t get a chance to come back.”

Florida Drivers in Continental Tire Challenge Eager for Hometown Race at Sebring

A strong contingent of drivers from Florida are represented in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, and next month’s 12 Hours of Sebring weekend will see them compete on home soil.

“I grew up in Tallahassee and I live in Orlando now, so Sebring has been my home track since day one,” said Paul Holton, driver of the No. 76 Compass Racing McLaren GT4, which finished 14th at the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. “I’ve spent a lot of time down here and really enjoy the place. It’s a nice, quaint little town not far from Orlando so it’s a quick, easy drive down for me.”

Fellow Floridian Ramin Abdolvahabi, a native of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and driver of the No. 09 Automatic Racing Aston Martin Vantage, revealed that, even though Sebring is only two hours from his hometown, this week’s test was his first time at the track in two years.

“I haven’t been here for two years, so coming back is like coming home,” he said. “It’s a fantastic track and it’s one of the iconic tracks in the world so being at Sebring – a small town, my hometown, welcoming – it’s fantastic. I went on the track a couple of times yesterday and it’s just like wearing an old shoe, it just fits and it’s fantastic. Hopefully, the race will go well and the weather will hold, so anyone who’s out there, come and see us!”

Frank Raso Trades in Airplanes for Porsches at Sebring

Several IMSA drivers boast “day jobs” outside of their racing gigs. Among them, Frank Raso’s work falls outside of ordinary jobs like doctor or lawyer. Rather, Raso flies airplanes for a living.

“I’m an airline pilot for a major airline,” said Raso, who tested the No. 10 Topp Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car at Sebring. “I’ve been flying for almost 30 years, and it’s allowed me, with all my time off and things like that to do this and fall back into racing again. I messed with it a little bit when I was younger, but it was, of course, expensive, so I got away from it for a while. I decided I wanted to get back into it in kind of my last couple of years before I get too old.”

Raso explained that the skills he practices while flying planes are more than transferable to his driving duties in a Porsche GT3 Cup car.

“Flying an airliner or flying any airplane, we have checklists, but everything is kind of done in order. It’s almost in a robot fashion type of a thing where you do this, you do this, you do this and you have to make sure you hit all your marks and fly the airplane with precision.

“So, when you get in these Cup cars, with no anti-lock brakes, no traction control, and no driver assist items, you have to make sure you hit your marks, when you’re accelerating, when you’re turning in. You have to be alert. It keeps your wits about you. The car can step out at any time. They’re a very difficult car to drive, but they’re a lot of fun.”
The 54-year-old Raso posted a best finish of fourth, on four separate occasions, in a part-time schedule during the 2017 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama season as a competitor in the Gold Cup class.
Newcomers Get Taste of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge
A number of new drivers got to sample Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge cars during the two days of testing at Sebring. Among them was amateur racer Scott Welham, who got his first taste of professional racing during the two-day outing at Sebring.
And he had a strong support system backing him up in the Kelly-Moss Road and Race team, the defending Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge champions with driver Jake Eidson.
“Here, you’ve got somebody that actually does coaching, data acquisition, track management – these are all separate people – plant manager, owner, a car-setup guy, you’ve got someone that bills you – which isn’t always a good thing, but you know, you just have that huge, huge support group that enables you to focus on driving,” Welham said of the team’s influence on his development over the two days.
IMSA’s next visit to Sebring will be for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring on March 17.